Derek Johnson

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The Hypocrisy of

Recently on’s radio show on KJR, someone called in and asked the guys what they thought of my new book, Bow Down to Willingham.  It’s a book in which dozens of former Husky players speak out on the perceived mistreatment and incompetence that occurred behind the scenes under former coach Tyrone Willingham.  The book also explores how the dynamics of white guilt enabled Willingham to be given a fourth year despite the mountain of evidence that he was destroying the program.

As managing partner Kim Grinolds tells unruly posters on’s heavily-trafficked message boards:  “Respect the business.  Respect If you’re in a store and are frustrated, you don’t chew out the owner in the middle of the store.  You talk to them in private.  Don’t disrespect our business.”

But recently on the Dawgman radio show, my former colleagues disrespected my business.  They claimed they haven’t read the book and don’t intend to.  They stated that they lived through the Willingham years and already know all the inside stories.  And they also mentioned how the book’s exploration of the effect of white guilt upon the Willingham situation offends them.

Last year, while I sat in UW President Mark Emmert’s office interviewing him for the book, I was hit by a thought:  “Why am I the one here trying to get to the bottom of this story?  Why wasn’t someone from looking into this?  Where are Bob Condotta, Ken Armstrong and Nick Perry from The Seattle Times?  Why am I the one interviewing dozens of players and making multiple attempts to secure an interview from Tyrone Willingham?”  I was struck by the realization that if I wasn’t pursuing this, nobody ever would—and the story would never be told.

The Seattle Times wasn’t within a thousand miles of this story. certainly wasn’t.  That’s because in our hypersensitive society, nobody wants to be called a racist, and Willingham was UW’s first black football coach.

Back in November 2007, as the UW program was disintegrating under Willingham at 11-25, I attempted to write editorials on demanding that Willingham be fired.  I was told that didn’t run editorials.  When I pointed out that columnist Dick Baird often wrote pro-Willingham editorials, I was told that was a special case because Baird was always at practice and was close to the team, while I was not.

As the season concluded and the public debate raged as to whether to fire or retain Willingham for 2008, I took to my old blog in a manner that would make Don Quixote proud.  I called for Willingham’s firing, and a Seattle Times poll soon after revealed that 70% of the public felt the same way.

Behind the scenes, the guys from expressed hatred for Willingham and for what he was doing to the football program.  While they articulated some of their disdain on the message boards and chat room, their front page articles remained either neutral or pro-Willingham in tone.

In December 2007, when President Emmert announced that Willingham was being brought back for the 2008 season, wrote an editorial calling for Husky fans to unite behind Willingham and support the team.  One month later, in January 2008, columnist Dick Baird defended Willingham and called him “one of the most respected men in the coaching profession.”

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Husky players were shocked and devastated that Willingham was returning.  Secret meetings were held to discuss a possible boycott.  However, fear reigned supreme and no such action was taken.

Evidence of white guilt over the situation could be perceived everywhere in Seattle.  Some UW upper campus employees I spoke with voiced their beliefs that firing a black coach after three years would be “unfair”.  Several prominent UW boosters had lobbied President Emmert vehemently to retain Willingham because it was “the right thing to do.”   The NAACP felt the need to rush to Willingham’s defense, even though their actions were motivated purely by the color of his skin and not as to whether he was doing a good job and deserved to stay.  And media personalities like KJR’s Mike Gastineau and Dave Grosby defended Willingham vehemently and were hostile to callers who believed Willingham should be fired.  All these defenders had good intentions, but they enabled the destruction of the football program based on viewing Willingham as a vulnerable and victimized black man as opposed to judging him simply as a football coach who had lost nearly 70% of his games. was aware of much that was going on within the team in the winter of 2007-08.  They had always made considerable efforts to network and become friendly with the players and coaching staff. Several players told them of the misery and incompetence they were enduring under Willingham.  But’s articles remained either neutral or pro-Willingham.  If they had stood up and defended the players and the program, by calling for Willingham’s firing, it would have been courageous.  The ramifications would have been huge.  As it was, only Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times and Mitch Levy of KJR spoke out about replacing Willingham.  Dawgman and the rest of the Seattle media remained quiet.

Months later, as the 2008 season got underway, Willingham was boorish and incorrigible to everyone around him.  Behind the scenes, members of the athletic department, including new AD Scott Woodward, were constantly apologizing to the players and several media members for Willingham’s behavior.  And the season would prove to be a protracted, hellish nightmare.  The first 0-12 season in Pac-10 history.’s articles remained neutral right up to when Willingham was finally fired.  Oddly enough, finally did write an editorial two weeks after the firing saying that Willingham was destroying the program and needed to be released immediately instead of serving out the season.  About 10 months too late, that editorial.

So here we are in 2011.  Dozens of Huskies who suffered through the Willingham years in silence are speaking out in my new book.  They are telling their stories and it’s been a cathartic experience for many of them.

Lo and behold, here are the guys from going on their radio show and telling people my book is offensive and not worth reading.  Furthermore, they say they have no need to read it because they lived through those times and already know the stories.

Pretty amazing that effectively wants to deny the players the chance to tell their stories.  Pretty amazing that chooses now to take a stance of moral superiority when their silence back in 2007 helped enable Willingham to totally destroy the program and sacrifice the senior seasons of so many players.


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